Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
Ask a young beauty addict to describe her dream job, and it'd sound a whole lot like Kerry Cole's real-life gig. As the Global Style Director for Becca Cosmetics, Cole develops products for the buzzy brand, then travels the world to educate fans about how to use them. But her life hasn't always been all sunshine and strobing (with Becca's best-selling highlighter, of course): Cole has been with the brand since the days when beauty buyers wouldn't give it a second look. Oh, how times change... Here's how the makeup artist made it happen.
What was your first job?
It’s so funny and it’s so telling—I worked at Ulta. I actually had two jobs, so I worked there and then I also worked at this place in New Jersey called Beauty Bar. I was there part-time fluffing and grooming brows before [the owner] would come in and wax. But at Ulta, I got my fix of being able to sell makeup and do makeup. I had always been obsessed with beauty and the whole industry. I was an art major in college and I always felt like doing makeup was an extension of my art ability. Rather than painting canvases, I’m painting faces. It’s just in me. If you talked to my mom, she would tell you I was putting on makeup by the age of four. She would say the most disturbing part of it all is that I would put it on right—not little kid makeup!
You could’ve taken lots of paths after that experience. Which did you pursue?
I actually went to school and did work as an aesthetician, but I just felt like it was a little quiet for me. You’re in a dark room and massaging people. Every time I would leave the spa room, if I had an appointment booked for makeup, I was like, “Oh, I love this!” I loved helping women feel better about themselves and educating them. I became an international make up artist for a brand called Pout, which is no longer around, but an amazing brand. But three and a half years later, they got bought out.
Then what happened?
I thought, I have this aesthetics license, let me look into the world of skincare. My former boss at Pout was going over to this company called Korres. I worked for them for about four years as the head of education and new product development. Then from there, Korres got bought out, so here we are again! At Korres, Robert DeBaker was my boss, and [as the new president and CEO of Becca Cosmetics] encouraged me to join him. I was like, I love this brand and I have a bunch of this brand in my kit and I’ve always been intrigued by it. He said, “You’re kind of walking into a mess. We’re not in the best spot and our job is to build up this brand and make it something amazing.” I was torn, but I decided I was up to the challenge.
What were those early days like?
There were four of us. It was a struggle, to be honest. We had to close some shops and we were in a really difficult time. It came to a point where if we didn’t land something—a department store, or Sephora or Ulta—we had to close the brand. I mean, there were times when our CFO told us to steal napkins from downstairs because we weren’t able to place our order for the week. There were times when people took sacrifices on their pay. It was really difficult, but I had faith in the brand and it was so different than anything else I had seen in the industry. Then one day, we got a phone call from Sephora, which had previously kicked us out. I just pitched my heart out with our CEO and CFO and we left there thinking, “We need this or this brand is going to fold.” We got back in.
Why do you think that was?
At the time, around seven years ago, no one was doing highlighting. No one. No one was even talking about it. I knew that we had this legacy product—now how can we build this portfolio? When I started there were like 250 SKUs in the line, and my boss said to me “You need to start cutting things. We need to figure out what’s really productive.” It was hard because it was blood, sweat, and tears that went into these products and there’s this new chick that comes in that’s like “Cut this, we can’t do this, get rid of this, this is horrible.” Then you look at where we are today and it’s amazing to think, it’s the first time in my career where I can honestly say, “I built a brand. I built a really kick-ass brand.” It feels really good that [today] some of the top eight SKUs are products that I made for the brand, and people still love them. I’m honored and thankful. It’s once in a lifetime.
Reflecting on that success, what are some of the coolest experiences you’ve personally had through the brand?
Never in my life did I think I would be going to 24 countries in one year. Never did I think that. Never did I think I would be doing a training in Kuwait or Dubai or any of those places. And then there are the people that I’ve met along the way, and the love they have for the brand. I’ll never forget, I was in Indonesia and I did a meet and greet. I remember telling my mom that I thought nobody would show up. I got there and there was a line wrapped around Sephora. I walked in, and people started crying! I was so confused. There was this love and loyalty and excitement to have me there. It was so cool and crazy. People were telling me, “I love you and I love your work and I love your Instagram.” I was like “How do you even know me?” I think that that part of my career, the social media side, is completely unexpected. People that message me saying, “When are you coming back to Bangkok? We miss you!”
And speaking of brand love, we hate to make you even choose, but is there one product that’s your current obsession?
That’s hard! I have two parts to that: The Velvet Blurring Primer ($38; sephora.com) with The One Perfecting Brush ($49; sephora.com). That duo I can put on any client and I can put it on myself. I can go anywhere in the world and it instantly makes a difference. It instantly fills in those lines and pores and it feels good to put it on. It engages people. Touch is so important so using that brush and getting it on people and showing them the difference it makes… it’s instant gratification.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There’s going to be some scary bumps in the road. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be kind of shitty. You’re going to put your love and heart into something and it might not turn out the way that you thought it was going to turn out, but it turns out the way it was supposed to be. I guess I could give the example of when we tried to launch the eyeshadow palette with Jaclyn Hill and it completely failed. At that time, I’ve never felt so crappy about my job and about what I did. But the outcome of that was that people rallied around us. People got us through it and people were loyal to us. So I would probably tell my younger self, “Go with your passion and do what makes your heart sing, and it’ll all figure its way out.”